As we get ready for the fireworks to begin at 3pm Pacific this afternoon, here is a full Clippers free agency preview. The NBA’s free agency negotiation window opens Friday afternoon, with teams able to officially sign contracts at 9:01am Pacific on November 22nd. That means that we’re in for a wild weekend as teams around the league scramble to get their rosters together ahead of training camps on December 1st. Let’s take a look at what the Clippers are dealing with.
After trading Rodney McGruder and Landry Shamet for Luke Kennard and Justin Patton, plus selecting Daniel Oturu, here is what their cap sheet looks like:
The contracts for Noah and Patton, totaling 4.5M, are fully non-guaranteed. In a scenario where the Clippers are attempting to keep their team salary figure low–like if they’re trying to utilize the full $9.3M mid-level exception and stay underneath the hard cap–both players would be easily cut to save money. However, those deals could also be useful for salary-matching in trade scenarios if the Clippers are unable to keep their team salary low enough to utilize the full MLE.
Daniel Oturu’s cap hold is included, even though he hasn’t agreed to a deal with the team yet. He’ll likely be a rookie minimum player, but the team will wait for free agency developments before deciding how to sign him. If they use the minimum salary exception, he can only get a two-year contract with the team, but if they use a portion of their mid-level exception his deal could be longer. Contracts signed using a portion of the non-taxpayer MLE can run for 4 years, while the taxpayer MLE can only be used to offer 3-year deals. Oturu’s rookie minimum actually slightly helps the Clippers here, as his $900k salary would potentially save them a little bit of room against the hard cap compared to a $1.6M veteran’s minimum deal.
If the team chooses the full MLE path, they’ll cut Noah and Patton and be $31M beneath the hard cap with 9 players on the roster (they’ll need to carry at least 14, but would probably like a 15th on the end of the bench for depth during a compressed schedule). If we set aside $9,258,000 for the team to use the full mid-level exception on a free agent, and two $1,620,564 slots for veteran’s minimum players to provide depth, the Clippers are left with $18,500,930 underneath the hard cap and 12 players on the roster, presumably with intentions of re-signing Marcus Morris and JaMychal Green. I’d guess that $10-12M for Morris and $6-8M for Green are fair offers, so we’re in a realistic price range here, but it’s a tight squeeze if either’s price is driven up. The Clippers could also potentially let Morris walk, use the MLE on a replacement, and try to re-sign Montrezl Harrell instead–but it feels like parting ways with Harrell makes a lot of sense right now.
Team-friendly deals for Morris and/or Green–or even a slight paycut for whoever takes the MLE–could give the Clippers a little wiggle room, and they have a number of ways to add smaller salaries. If the team has room under the hard cap to use it, they’ll have access to the $3.6M bi-annual exception to add another free agent at above the minimum (they wouldn’t necessarily need to give someone the full $3.6M). They also have trade exceptions worth $3.6M, $2.1M, and $1.4M–these can’t be used to sign free agents but could bring a player in via trade or a waiver claim.
Any trade that the Clippers make could also provide additional wiggle room or throw a wrench in full MLE plans. Any deal would likely be built around one or both of Patrick Beverley or Lou Williams going out, with the Clippers either pursuing a replacement veteran guard, or using the trade to shore up front court depth and focusing their MLE on a guard. Consider that Beverley makes $13,333,333 next season and Williams makes $8,000,000. Here are some frequently-mentioned potential trade targets for the Clippers: Spencer Dinwiddie – $11,454,048; Patty Mills – $13,285,714; Eric Bledsoe – $16,875,000; George Hill – $9,590,602; P.J. Tucker – $7,969,573.
I’ll let you do the math for your preferred trade scenario yourself, but suffice to say that even tiny money margins have big MLE/hard cap ramifications. Adding $1.6M by trading Williams for Hill likely makes the whole plan crumble unless that money is made up for by a paycut from one of Morris/Green or a Patrick Beverley trade off-setting the addition. Trading Joakim Noah or Justin Patton doesn’t help, as their non-guaranteed salaries aren’t factored in to these margins. Trading Mfiondu Kabengele only helps slightly–you’d lose his $2.1M deal but have to sign a minimum-salary player worth $1.6M to replace him.
Of course, if the Clippers forego using the non-taxpayer MLE and avoid the hard cap, a lot of this hand-wringing goes out the window. Adding a few million dollars in a trade is insignificant. The bi-annual exception is also gone–that tool goes hand-in-hand with the full MLE and forces teams to stay below the hard cap–but the team’s aforementioned trade exceptions aren’t. Additionally, without any limit on team salary, the Clippers can take fewer risks in negotiating with Green and Morris, maybe even increasing their salaries in exchange for team-friendly contract structures (like fewer years of guaranteed money). Re-signing Montrezl Harrell would be on the table, as would sign-and-trading him in an attempt to recoup some value or at least create a trade exception that could be used later. Even Reggie Jackson and Patrick Patterson could benefit, as the Clippers can give them slightly above-minimum deals using non-bird rights. That might not be likely, since LA should try to do better than Jackson for guard depth and–perhaps unfortunately, as he was quite good last year–don’t figure to have much roster space for Patterson with Oturu joining Kabengele as depth stretch bigs.
Then, the team would use the taxpayer MLE, worth $5,718,000, to add a free agent. This would likely take them out of contention for bigger names, like Goran Dragic, Danilo Gallinari, and Serge Ibaka. Instead, they’d likely be looking at guards along the lines of Kris Dunn, D.J. Augustin, or Rajon Rondo (please, no…) or bigs like Tristan Thompson, Aron Baynes, or Nerlens Noel. That point guard/center divide assumes that the Clippers find themselves in a situation where they’ve made a trade that creates a need at guard and/or need a backup center after losing Harrell, but in a scenario where the Beverley/Williams guard duo remains and Harrell is re-signed, some backup small forwards on the market at this price point include Justin Holiday, Garrett Temple, and Moe Harkless. Harkless would be particularly helpful, as a Williams/Kennard second unit would struggle to defend quicker guards and Moe can switch across positions… but I think the Clippers would be better served by moving Williams to avoid creating such a need.
The truth is, the Clippers have countless avenues before them, and we have little idea which they’ll choose. As we learn more about the team’s plans, starting this afternoon when negotiations can begin and we start to hear about the players they’re is talking to, we’ll be able to get a better idea of the direction the front office is heading and what the roster will look like next season. Make sure to stay tuned to 213Hoops, The Lob The Jam The Podcast, and the LA Clippers News & Updates Podcast for all of the latest rumors, news, analysis, and predictions over what is likely set to be one of the most chaotic transaction weekends ever in the NBA.
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